Trehan could scarcely believe what he was hearing. The two of them had battled nearly to the death as many times as Trehan and Viktor had. "And your reasoning, Viktor?"

He shrugged. "I'm the last of the House of War, and frankly, that's all I want to do. I'm given to understand this is a bad trait for a king to possess."

There had to be more to it than that, but Trehan wouldn't push for details in front of the others. "So what do you three plan?"

"We install Cousin Lothaire as monarch," Mirceo said. "And then the discord will end. Just as predicted."

At the hour of her death, Lothaire's mother, Ivana, the rightful heiress to the throne, was said to have cursed Dacia with unrelenting strife.

Until Lothaire was made king.

I wonder if Lothaire the Enemy of Old knows exactly how accurate his trailing name is. . . .

Mirceo had seen enough strife in his short lifetime to believe in the curse. Trehan, however, had been alive long enough to know that the wily Ivana had likely just predicted more of the same underhanded maneuvering already in play. Dacia's finite amount of political power and territory made for a situation rife with conflict.

"How much damage can Lothaire do?" Viktor said. "We don't aggress other kingdoms, we don't have civil unrest-other than what we royals get up to-and we're bloody hidden! He'll be a figurehead. And by rights, the throne is his."

Trehan shook his head. "The last time I saw him, he was half out of his mind, searching for Dacia in the dead of winter-naked." The vampire's white-blond hair had been saturated with blood, his pale skin covered with it, his eyes glowing red like coals. "Oh, and he was also bellowing in Russian for someone to 'fucking fight' him."

Like the rest of them, Lothaire pursued a vendetta, and he coveted the crown of the Dacians to a blistering degree. Too bad he couldn't find his own kingdom. "He murders for sport, he feeds without restraint, and he sleep-traces uncontrollably." Like sleep walking-only he could awaken in a different world. "The Enemy of Old is a madman."

Mirceo said, "We've been watching him, Uncle. This idea is not as implausible as you'd think. He's found his Bride."

This was a new development.

Viktor added, "I understand your hesitation, Trey. But I've seen him with his female. Even in the grips of blood lust, he doesn't ravage her. And he's been setting off purposely, as if for some kind of mission. Which indicates at least a degree of sanity."

Trehan narrowed his gaze. "And you want to find out what this mission is."

"Exactly. We've found his lair in a mortal city called York-"

"It's New York," Stelian said with a roll of his eyes, as if he'd explained this before. Then to Trehan he added, "He's going farther afield, to locations we can't predict. We can't follow his movements-not without your crystal."

Trehan gave a laugh. "Which will never leave my sight."

"We figured as much," Viktor said. "You must lead the way, then!"

Trehan had only to imagine Lothaire's face, and it would direct him to the Enemy of Old. Then he could trace his cousins to the vampire's location.

Trehan turned to Stelian. "You're actually in agreement with this?" His hulking cousin revered Dacia and loathed change.

"It's rational to explore the possibility, to determine if Lothaire's truly improving." Stelian took another drink. "We require little of your time. Your days are free."

No, they really weren't. Damn it. And still my duty to Dacia calls me.

Though Trehan's memories of Lothaire gave him pause, the idea of restoring a rightful king to his throne appealed to his sense of order. Trehan might be breaking other rules now, but the rules of succession for the Dacian crown should be inviolable.

Yes, he was warming to this idea.

Viktor said, "You should know, however, that there might be a catch with his Bride."

"Isn't there always?" Trehan said. "Can't wait to hear it-but first, I've a catch of my own. . . ."

For the last several days, Bettina had been particularly unmotivated to work.

The first couple of nights after her close encounter with Daciano on the grandstand, she'd wandered her rooms after the evening's battles, aimlessly pacing, her appetite gone. For endless hours, she'd fretted over Cas in the ring-and replayed her three interludes with Daciano.

But then, fearing Patroness's displeasure, the deadline looming, she'd powered through and now had much to show for her efforts.

She'd sketched diagrams of every moving part and cut each individual mold, getting closer to the fabrication stage. So what materials will I use?

She thought of her great and powerful Patroness, with all her fiery red hair. Rose gold. Of course.

Picking up a diamond file, she began to smooth the edges of the last mold. With a project this intricate and complex, the parts had to be exact, with machinelike precision.

She could have requested an extension on this deadline, but it helped to keep her mind occupied as the tournament dragged on.

Night after night, she'd flinched with each hit Cas took and sagged with each bout he won; she'd fretted as Gourlav handily advanced, without so much as a single injury.

Night after night, she'd wondered why the vampire had made no move to speak to her since he'd pleasured her in the mist.

He had appeared, killed quietly and efficiently, then vanished.




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